Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley
There during Thursday’s (June 21) taping of The City Wire show were two examples of what we likely could use more of in Little Rock.
Sen. Jake Files, a Republican from Fort Smith, and Rep. Uvalde Lindsey, a Democrat from Fayetteville, will soon be colleagues in the Arkansas Senate. Neither have a general election opponent, and Lindsey, term-limited in the House, will begin his first term in the Senate.
They were on the television set to answer hypothetical questions about an upcoming Arkansas Legislative session that may contain a political dynamic not seen in almost 140 years: control of one or both houses of the Arkansas Legislature by Republicans.
The Arkansas Legislature has the smallest margin of Democratic rule since Reconstruction. House Democrats outnumber Republicans 54-46, while the State Senate has a 20-15 Democratic advantage. To gain 5 new seats in the House and just 3 in the Senate would give Republicans control of both chambers for the first time in modern political history.
Before we delve further, let’s note that politically this essay will be unfair to Files and of no consequence to Lindsey. Why? Situating Files anywhere near the realm of pragmatic politics in which compromise is required, is to lessen his standing within a growing segment of his own party. For Lindsey, pragmatism is the coin of his realm. To speak of his pragmatism is to note the obvious.
What is not obvious is the goal of Arkansas Republicans. Their agenda to gain control through numbers does not appear to include a plan to govern once they gain control through numbers. How will the dog behave if it catches the car?
GOP legislative leaders promote a “SIMPLE plan” as part of their overall campaign to gain control through numbers. The plan calls for Spending restraint; Income and other tax reform; Medicaid Sustainability; Protecting Arkansas’ future; Legal and regulatory reform; and, Educational excellence.
The SIMPLE plan comes with a subtle suggestion that Arkansas' Democratic leaders are not and have not been for good government.
Spending restraint? Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is the author of the largest tax cut in Arkansas history. His successful efforts to push for a reduced sales tax on food from 6% to 1.5% and saved Arkansas taxpayers more than $794 million. During Beebe’s more than five years in office, the state has seen $1.26 billion in tax cuts and $530 million in tax increases — a $730 million net reduction in taxes. Of the tax increases, almost $400 million has come from the tobacco tax and severance tax hikes.
Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Republican predecessor to Beebe who held the office for 10 years, never managed such a sizeable tax cut. And the number of government jobs under Huckabee grew more than 12%, compared to less than 6% so far in Beebe’s tenure.
Spending restraint, or the lack thereof, doesn’t factually appear to be the exclusive domain of one or the other party.
Protecting Arkansas’ future? What’s that mean? That’s less of a specific plan and much more of a vague platitude. Vagary with GOP pronouncements does not provide comfort that good or better government is a “SIMPLE” goal.
Yours Truly is not a member of the left-leaning media who is sad that Democrats may soon lose their historical political control of the legislative machine. I grew up politically under the tutelage of Arkansas’ Republican Matriarch, Ada Mills. My mother was the Johnson County Campaign Chairman for Frank White when he defeated Clinton. I’ve long waited for the day when Arkansas Democrats weren’t automatically guaranteed a legislative majority.
Also, competition is good, especially if it causes all the players to perform better. But I fear this isn’t competition like that between Apple and Microsoft which resulted in revolutionary consumer software and hardware products and services. Language from the less mature wing of the Arkansas GOP who get their talking points from their role models in Washington D.C., suggests this will be more of a war for control — if not vengeance — than a healthy competition of ideas.
Political satirist P.J. O’Rourke provides this perspective on modern party politics: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.”
We don’t need government that doesn’t work, which was the point made by Files and Lindsey during the recent interview.
Files and Lindsey agreed that Arkansas could use a taste of smaller government and tax reform. They agreed that Arkansas’ government has been conservatively managed, but government should always seek ways to be more efficient.
But they also said, in so many words, that smaller government benefits no one if it’s not smarter government.
There during the show taping sat two examples of what we need more of in Little Rock come January. My concern is that they also represent two examples of wishful thinking.